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Staying Fit During the Winter Months

Jan 05, 2012

Written by Delia Roberts, Ph.D., FACSM

There is a cold wind blowing outside, and the temperatures have dropped below freezing. The sidewalks and roads are covered by slush or ice, and the sky is a gloomy shade of grey. It’s hard enough to motivate yourself to get outside and exercise when the weather is sunny and warm, so how are you supposed to maintain your goal of healthy living when Old Man Winter makes outdoor activities so unappealing?

ACSM recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days per week and 8-10 strength training exercises (with 8-12 repetitions of each) twice per week to maintain good health. The benefits of physical activity are vital to reduce the risk of disease and increase longevity, so it’s important to keep your exercise program going all year long.

Going Outdoors

Though the weather outside isn’t warm and sunny, you can create your own microenvironment for exercise. You don’t need expensive exercise wear; rather, the simple use of multiple layers allows you to pile on enough insulation to keep you warm at the start of your workout and then shed layers as you warm up and begin to perspire. It’s very important to avoid getting wet because you’ll lose heat through evaporation very quickly when temperatures drop.

Take a bit of extra time to ensure that you are well warmed up before beginning a strenuous workout. Even if your core feels warm, the areas of your body exposed to the wind may remain cool. Don’t forget to cover your head and hands, and be particularly careful to ensure that extremities like your fingers, toes, nose and ears are well-protected. These and other suggestions can be found in ACSM’s Selecting and Effectively Using Clothing for Inclement Weather brochure available online.

Safety can be a consideration when there is a layer of ice or snow on the ground. Commercially available rubber cleats are a good way to get more traction. A simple and inexpensive solution is to use double-sided tape to attach a piece of a metal scouring pad or metal netting to the bottom of your shoes.

Learning a new sport like ice skating, snowshoeing or skiing is a great way to increase your physical activity in the winter, and it offers the added benefit that you and your family can have fun and make new friends in the process. Exercising outdoors when the temperatures fall below freezing can be exhilarating, but it’s important to make sure you are safe and well-protected during your workout.

Staying Indoors

Indoor workouts are a nice alternative to outdoor activities during the winter months. Changing your routine is a real opportunity to improve your fitness. If a fitness club is accessible to you, they can offer stationary bikes, treadmills, rowing machines and other types of trainers as well as strength training equipment. But it’s easy to find ways to get in a good workout without purchasing a club membership or specialized equipment. Get together with your officemates and run a contest to see who can use the stairs the most in a month. Not only will you help the environment by reducing the use of elevators or escalators but each set of stairs you go up and down will strengthen your legs and core, as well as give your heart and lungs a good workout. Also, malls are a great place to meet friends for coffee, so why not spend a half hour walking briskly at the same time? Some malls even offer after-hours access for walking groups.

One of my favorite indoor workouts is a simple form of higher-intensity circuit training. After warming up with some skipping or dancing to some good fast music, set your watch alarm to go off every 30 seconds and get creative. Try alternating upper-body exercises and lower-body exercises. For example, do 30 seconds of push-ups, followed by 30 seconds of lunges, followed by 30 seconds of tossing a five-pound bag of rice up in the air, and finish with 30 seconds of squat jumps. Then take 2-5 minutes to recover with easier exercise such as walking up and down one flight of stairs, some core work, or even a household chore such as vacuuming. Repeat the sequence three times, and you will have just had a great workout. The variations are endless!

So whatever the weather brings, there are always opportunities to give your body much needed care. Making exercise a priority is important, and the best way to make sure you meet your physical activity requirements on a daily basis is to make it part of your everyday life.

View the full winter 2011 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page supported by Liberty Mutual online.

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